The zero-waste challenge. Maybe you’ve heard about it through social media, maybe you know someone who’s tried it, or maybe you’ve even tried it yourself. But is the zero-waste challenge actually feasible and sustainable? Or is it just another idealistic environmental fad? In the month of January this year I tried the zero-waste challenge, and here’s my take.
The zero-waste challenge is a challenge to minimize your personal contributions to the landfill, with the goal of creating none. You find a bag or jar and anything that you can’t recycle, compost, or divert from the landfill goes in. At the end of the month, you can weigh out your waste or see what waste you’ve created. Sounds easy enough!
Going into the zero-waste challenge I already had previous experience with reducing my personal waste so I was cautiously optimistic. At the beginning of the month, I designated one of the bins that I use for recycling as my waste bin. Everything that I couldn’t figure out how to recycle would go into the bin, with the exception of hygienic items and cleaning items for general sanitation purposes (e.g. floss, mop refills). The first week was easy as I had more motivation to actually make good choices, but one of the hardest things about the challenge was definitely keeping it up throughout the entirety of the month.
Use those reusable containers! If you don’t already have reusable cups or Tupperware, get some or borrow some from a friend. Starbucks sells cups for only two dollars and you also get a cup discount if you bring your own cup, which leads us to my next tip:
Refuse. Make it a personal rule that if you don’t bring your containers then it’s a no-go. I very quickly learned that if I wanted my afternoon caffeine boost I’d have to start remembering to carry around my cup, or I wanted to buy bulk foods that I needed to bring my containers. Surprisingly, most places were very accommodating when I brought my own container, a cashier at a bakery even helped me package my snacks into my reusable containers for me.
Do your research! Used tissues can be composted, and so can nail clippings. Many chip bags, granola bar wrappers and other flexible plastic packaging can also now be recycled if you bring them to a designated recycling facility, such as some Return-it Depots, which greatly decreased the amount of waste I was creating. The Metro Vancouver Waste Wizard and RecycleBC are great resources once you start questioning where you can dispose of each item. Some local stores in Metro Vancouver that have embraced zero-waste and sell a variety of zero-waste products include The Soap Dispensary and Nada Grocery.
At the end of the month, I was surprised at how little waste I was able to create. Most of my waste was plastic materials that couldn’t be recycled, minus the plastic floss I used throughout the month or the dirt I swept. A few things that I know I will have to dispose of sooner or later after the challenge would be my toothpaste and my toothbrush, and I know there are definitely compostable options out there that I can switch to. Many compostable alternatives are readily available, but remember to do your research as many bristles actually aren’t compostable.
Is going zero-waste inconvenient? Yes. Is it time-consuming? Absolutely. But it does pay off and it does make you realize how much waste you actually create. Going into zero-waste definitely depends on your personal lifestyle and needs, and you will face unique challenges and difficulties. At the end of the day, zero-waste is more of a lifestyle choice than anything. It’s about making the personal decision to divert your waste whenever possible and actively choose things that generate the least amount of waste. After the challenge, I do think it’s possible to live at least a minimal-waste lifestyle sustainably, as there’s always going to be things that can’t be recycled. If you’re curious to see how much of an impact you have on the planet or just want to live a more sustainable lifestyle for whatever reason, I would definitely recommend trying out the zero-waste challenge!